For the first time ever, I’m going to attempt to write an income report from start to finish in just one sitting. It’s also the first time I’ve written in a while, so bear with me if this ends up all over the place.
As some of you may have noticed, we have been posting a lot less on this website. The reason for that is pretty simple: We’ve been busy grinding away on DollarSprout (our main personal finance blog).
Since launching DollarSprout back in October 2017, we’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot of success. This past month DollarSprout had over 300,000 pageviews and, combined with BTOP, generated $61,915 in total revenue.
In this report, I’m going to break down what worked, what didn’t work, and where we see DollarSprout going in the future. This income report is going to be different than most income reports you’ll read, for a couple of reasons:
A. I don’t have anything to sell you. The more successful we get, the more I worry these income report will be used to sell somebody a dream. I don’t want that. If you want to start a blog, I will leave this tutorial link here once.
B. This will mostly be a stream of consciousness rather than a lot of tactical advice.
But first, let’s look at the numbers.
Affiliate Marketing: $59,141
Course Sales: $482 (net earnings, after affiliate payouts)
Sponsored Posts: $1,500
Proof of (most) Revenue:
And because I’ve heard grumblings of people out there not believing income reports, I decided to shoot a quick video walking through most of our affiliate networks to verify earnings. (Really, though, I just didn’t want to save/compress/upload 10+ different screenshots).
This includes freelance writers, virtual assistants, content editors, etc. Something worth noting is that our expenses in this area will drastically increase here in the near future. Starting in November, we will be working with a content marketing agency for around $6-7K per month.
Facebook ads: $2,877
Hosting-related services (billed annually): ~$105/month
Email marketing: $161
Premium services (billed annually): ~$100-$200/month
These are typically plugin related. Think backups, theme support, security, social sharing, etc.
Other random expenses: ~$500
Total expenses: $11,751
Net Income: ~ $50,164
A note on expenses:
If you look at this and say “well dang, I can’t spend 12 grand a month on my blog, so there is no way I will ever get to $60k+”, understand that you slowly build up to this point. When we first started out, our only expense was our web hosting.
Also, note the complexion of our expenses:
How most business expenses work:
Spend $10 to make $11. (Think of blogs with heavy Facebook ad spend)
How ~75% of our business expenses work (mostly under “payroll” category):
Spend $10 on asset creation that will yield 10-100X over the next several years.
I think this is something very important to consider when looking at our income report vs. some other bloggers in our space and at a similar revenue level.
Recent Developments and Things On My Mind
Our Shopify store was a complete bust.
We made $7 from it last month after I spent probably 40 hours or so on that project.
I’ve sensed for a while that we are at a crossroads with DollarSprout in terms of how we want to monetize the site.
You always hear some of the big bloggers talk about how “the money is in the list” and how important it is to sell your own products. For a while we took that to heart, but now I’m realizing it might have been a mistake.
Up until this point, we have been quite successful in affiliate marketing. When we created the Shopify store (and planned out possible future products and courses), I viewed it as a way to not only diversify our income, but take it to the next level.
After a lot of thought I’ve come to these realizations:
A. I don’t think our products were the right fit for our audience.
B. We have only just started to scratch the surface of our affiliate marketing potential, and focusing on product creation and sales only distracts us from what we are truly good at: making solid content and getting it seen.
In a sense, trying to add a new monetization strategy to what was already working wasn’t a way to diversify. It was actually slowing down our growth.
Don’t be afraid to try something new, but don’t be afraid to cut ties with projects that are weighing you down.
What got us to $60k monthly revenue isn’t going to be what gets us to $500k+ a month
Yes, I know I sound ridiculous right now.
I have no inherent need to make that much money, but the act of making progress is what seems to drive my happiness, so I think I’m always going to be in “growth mode”. It’s the lack of a finish line that makes me love this game so much.
So anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it’s going to take for us to reach the “next level” of blogging success.
Luckily for us, there are a LOT of sites in our niche that I can look up to for inspiration, both in terms of tactics and overall strategy.
What I found is this:
- The players getting millions of monthly page views in our niche aren’t selling courses or products. Everything is free.
- They are not simply a repository of content. The pros guide their readers through a transformation or a decision.
That last one was huge wake up call for me.
As I look at our site right now, DollarSprout is just a big conglomerate of blog posts on a bunch of different financial topics. It’s basically up to the reader to navigate their way through our site and hopefully find something that is helpful to them.
It’s not that our current strategy can’t get us results (it definitely can, and is), but I’m sensing that there is going to be a ceiling for our growth if we continue on this path.
So what does this mean for us in terms of changes?
To be honest, I’m not totally sure yet.
A few things do come to mind, though:
- Refining our content verticals and creating a writing team of industry experts for each one.
- Redesign category pages and homepage.
- Hire a developer to create interactive tools within our content. We want readers to be able to “play around” with our content rather than just read words on a screen.
- Refine our internal linking strategy and be more intentional with user paths for each piece of content.
This is not an overnight project… or even a year long project. I can’t even consider it a project, really. It’s more of a new “state of existence” for our business. But, I think you can expect to start seeing noticeable changes on DollarSprout within the next 3-6 months.
A quick note:
As I’m writing this, I kind of feel like I’m taking on a pretty critical tone of myself. Full transparency: I think this is a blessing and a curse for Ben and I. We struggle with taking a step back and seeing that, wow, we made 60 freakin’ grand this month from our living room. At the same time, it’s this self-critical mindset and always “looking ahead” that has got us where we are now. Not sure I’m ready to change that just yet, but maybe someday.
Before we publish an income report, Ben and I like to ask our blogging Facebook group members about any questions they have. We usually can’t get to them all, but here are some from this month:
How do you justify the time that you spend on different tasks? -Drew DuBoff
This is something I continue to struggle with on a daily basis. I hate to look at everything from a direct ROI perspective because that paints an incomplete picture of what is important and what’s not. For instance, this income report might tangentially lead to an affiliate sale or two on our site, but since I haven’t monetized this article very much, we will probably get nothing out of this… and that’s okay. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth a few hours of my time to put together.
On the flip side, I think that as you are building traction with your blog, it’s absolutely vital that you figure out what moves the needle for you and what doesn’t.
Here are a few things that I see people spend time on that I think they shouldn’t:
- Spending time in Facebook groups when they should be building content or learning a skill
- Responding to emails that don’t warrant or deserve a response
- Buying courses that they won’t implement and then lying to themselves about it
- Creating content that doesn’t have a clear path towards being seen.
- Twitter (I’m guilty of this)
How much backlink building do you do and how? Guest posts? Directories? -Aja McClanahan
I’ll be honest, this is where having multiple people helps. Between me and Ben and Megan, we are always on the prowl for backlinks.
Whether it’s hanging out in niche specific Facebook groups where journalists may be looking for sources from time to time (for us, that’s the FinCon group), or sending outreach emails for guest posts, etc, we are always trying to find new opportunities for links and exposure. I’m sure we have done a couple directory listings, but I doubt they’ve done much of anything for us since directories have so many links.
I think making “link awareness” a permanent state of mind is the biggest thing for us — there isn’t one tactic that has led to any major breakthroughs, but more a byproduct on jumping on any opportunity we see come up. Over the course of 6-12 months, the results of that labor starts to compound.
How you guys optimize posts for conversions once you get them ranking and getting traffic from Google? -Kelan J Kline
For list posts, this is where knowledge of EPCs (earnings per click) comes in.
Say you have 5 affiliates mentioned throughout an article. If Affiliate A has a $1.10 EPC and Affiliate B has a $0.77 EPC, it makes sense to have it appear before earlier in the article. People are easily distracted, so having your highest converting offers appear early is quite important. That being said, you shouldn’t sacrifice the context of the article for the sake of neatly ordering your EPCs. If it doesn’t make sense to mention a certain affiliate until the end of an article, don’t artificially try to place it at the beginning.
Another thing we do is disable our display ads once articles start to rank well. This not only speeds things up from a load time perspective, but it reduces the amount of distractions a reader has to deal with. If you have a post about the best online banks, you want someone to open a bank account through an affiliate link, not click on an ad for cat litter.
When can I expect my beach house? – Bart Proctor (AKA My Dad)
And on that note, I think I’m done with this report! I’ll catch you guys next time!